Ideas for your User Group

By Gabe Goldberg, APCUG Advisor, Region 2

Get to Know Your Fellow Group Members

If your group is typical, members come from diverse backgrounds with different career, life, and technology experiences. Also typical is people not sharing such details — even though they’re interesting and can reveal common interests and mutual experiences. I’ve seen that done in group newsletters or other material: structured as Q&A interviews and brief biographical writeups. In addition, it’s often begun highlighting group directors and officers so members learn a bit about the people who make their group run.

Captions Can Enhance the Value of YouTube Videos

YouTube is a great source of diverse videos for meeting programs or individual viewing. Explore APCUG’s YouTube channel for a selection <> adding topic keywords to locate specific material of interest, e.g., “Windows 10”, membership, or fundraising.
But video sound quality varies, depending both on recording quality and the sound system used. It’s easy to enable captions tracking what’s said: move the mouse cursor over the video display and click CC (Closed Captions) icon in screen lower-right corner.

Make Interesting, Informative, Diverse Meeting Topics a Mainstay of Your Group

Among the challenges of running meetings is identifying and booking presentations that members and guests find “can’t miss” offerings. Groups often rely on a few stalwart presenters — which is good and bad news. It’s good to hear from known speakers with whom there’s a relationship and established credibility. It’s bad because speakers can burn out and run short of topics. And sometimes it’s nice for a change of pace, even from the old familiars.

A wonderful source of presentations, with short and long presentations, covering historical technological events, key figures in the IT industry, and predictions of things to come, is the Computer History Museum: where under Explore, you’ll find Stories, Timelines, and Collections, Playlists, Blogs, and Publications. At the bottom of the Playlists page, you’ll find CHM Live, with enough material to flesh out many meetings to come.

How Well Do Your Members Know Your Group?

Besides requesting membership renewal and offering meetings, communications, and perhaps a newsletter — how much do you do to keep members informed on and engaged with your group’s operation? Do members know everything that’s been accomplished in the last year, how finances are managed, and what volunteers do behind the scenes to ensure group productivity and prosperity?

I recently attended — just virtually, sadly — the annual meeting of Fredericksburg PC User Group (FPCUG). I found this to be a model of comprehensive and informative outreach to members. It’s done to ensure that members know what they get for dues and let members who don’t regularly attend meetings learn about what they missed. It included a financial recap and budget projection; election of directors, officers, and trustees; discussion of challenges common to most groups, such as membership and meeting attendance; and a broad range of possibilities for group evolution. This sort of member involvement is exactly what lets user groups form decades ago and is an antidote to fewer and fewer people having to do more and more work to run organizations. Don’t let your group fall victim to the “Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone)” syndrome — ensure ongoing member involvement.

Help Your Community Get Online

Community service projects are a wonderful way to provide structure for members to participate in group activities while working to help neighbors. The recent Bipartisan Infrastructure Law created the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which provides eligible households $30 per month off their internet bills, <>. Eligible households can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet.

But anyone who’s worked with technology knows that acquiring equipment — and even connectivity — is just the beginning. Without training, coaching, and ongoing assistance, at best, equipment isn’t used to its fullest capabilities and at worst, is abandoned when problems occur. Every technology club or group has people willing and able to provide assistance — if they can only be matched with people needing help. Working with local governments, libraries, and non-profit organizations, seek ways to connect to people using these discounts and grants in order to help them learn, enjoy, and value modern technology. Aside from doing good for individuals and communities, this should also provide introductions to prospective members.

The User-Group World is Flat

With so many groups meeting online, location and distance are irrelevant to participation and membership. I recently enjoyed joining — from Northern Virginia — the London Mac User Group (LMUG) to view the film “Secrets of Silicon Valley” <> and participate in the great post-film discussion lasting more than an hour. Several groups in the Washington, DC, area collaborate regularly with shared meetings and members attending each other’s events. That’s an easy way for groups to have economies of scale by sharing resources and efforts to support a joint user community. Especially with meetings online, as shown by LMUG’s welcome to distant outsiders, reaching out to other groups can bring new value to members at little or no cost or effort.